The second party conference is underway in Manchester as Labour gather in a fairly optimistic mood. Despite the perennial mutterings about how suitable Ed Miliband is for the role of Prime Minister, Labour is enjoying a healthy lead over the Conservatives in recent opinion polls. As with all opposition conferences their biggest test is to solidify this support and persuade voters that the party is prepared for power.
The biggest challenge for Labour is to reassure the country that they are reliable stewards of the economy. Polls consistently show the two Eds to be lagging far behind David Cameron and George Osborne on the key issue of economic competence. No party has won power being behind on this issue and Ed Balls clearly recognises this. In the run up to the conference he suggested that any incoming Labour government would launch a Comprehensive Spending Review, looking into every pound of government spending.
Unusually for a mid-term opposition conference there were some big policy announcements, though unsurprisingly Mr Balls indicated these were not manifesto pledges but rather things he would do if he were in charge. Nevertheless they provide food for thought and an indication about where Labour policy is moving in a number of areas.
- On the same day that Hometrack released figures showing a dramatic slowdown of housing sales across the country shadow chancellor Ed Balls pressed for further action. Balls has somehow received inside Treasury information regarding the value of potential 4G telecommunications sales, which apparently run into the billions of pounds bracket. He wants to use this to provide everyone with a Stamp Duty holiday on mortgages of up to £250,000 and use that windfall to fund 100,000 new affordable houses.
- The chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, Sir John Armitt, is to head up a review into how Labour should address the long-term infrastructure needs of the country. Sir John has been asked to provide recommendations and to approach other parties to try and develop a cross-party consensus for his proposals. Though given that they will certainly be Labour proposals rather than independent ones it is very unlikely either David Cameron or Nick Clegg would acquiesce. That infrastructure and house building are so far up the agenda for Labour suggests they have recognised the importance of construction to the wider economy.
Ed Balls’s speech came hot on the heels of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna. Umunna is seen as being a potential future leader of the party. In his speech Balls made several non-Treasury specific points leading many to suggest he was trying to appeal to a wider audience. Was this co-incidence, or perhaps he was heading Umunna off at the pass? With Labour so far ahead in the polls it would be crazy to try and ditch Ed Miliband so soon, wouldn’t it?
Redwood will profile all the major speeches this week as the Labour Party Conference continues.